The first few weeks of college are filled with countless activities, all aimed at the lost and often less than busy freshman class: outdoor movie screenings on the quad, scavenger hunts through the library, free food from various student organizations, information fairs, and of course, countless parties hosted by the campus Greek societies. A new student can feel extremely overwhelmed, a feeling I share as I am beginning my freshman year this August. When meeting new people on campus, there are a few general questions always asked, like “What’s your major,” “Where do you live,” and the especially common, “Are you going to rush?” I can easily answer the first two questions without much explanation, but find myself giving multiple reasons as to why my answer is no to the last.
To rush or not to rush: that is the question. According to the North-American Intrafraternity Conference (NIC), there are around eight hundred campuses that offer chapters with 325,530 undergraduate members, and at the National Panhellenic Conference (NPC), there are almost seven hundred campuses with sorority chapters with 325,772 undergraduate members in North America. The NPC alone has seen an average of over one hundred thousand members in the past seven years. Despite its many criticisms, the fraternity and sorority life has many benefits, both socially and philanthropically; however, those students who choose to remain unaffiliated with the system can feel alienated. Is Greek life becoming more popular by way of exclusivity?
By the numbers, it certainly does not seem to be so. As aforementioned, the rise in membership has skyrocketed within the last few years. The problem does not seem to be exclusivity from these numbers, yet those who are not a part of the system see it as elitist and frivolous. According to the popular website Total Frat Move (TFM), those who do not rush during their time at college are known as “GDIs.” One can find the definition of the acronym by way of a quick Urban Dictionary search but, in short, these people who are unaffiliated with Greek organizations are not the typical mold of Greek members. TFM, along with similar websites, berate these outsiders just as they see them: rebels of the system. One can easily infer how many non-members see the Greek system as patronizing and limiting. Oftentimes, writers of college papers negatively comment on this exclusivity; these writers are not necessarily in opposition to the existence of these societies, but mostly in opposition to the behavior of their peers.
“White privilege” is a term often associated with fraternities and sororities as, in 2013, the University of Alabama came under fire when sixteen sororities did not offer two African-American women membership. The controversy was not stemmed from the fact the two women did not receive bids, but rather from the fact none of those sororities had an African-American sister. Protesters erupted, according to Henry Wolff of the online publication American Renaissance, to end what is believed to be the “last form of formal segregation on campus.” With instances such as the one at UA, it is difficult to defend the idea that Greek life is not based on exclusivity. Yet the outrage over racial inequality in Greek organizations is not something that is shouted, it is simply only brought up when an incident occurs such as it did in Alabama. The question is not over exclusivity, but more so, why is there not more conversation over the dissolution of supposed “tradition”? Even though there are “traditionally black” Greek organizations, it almost seems ridiculous today that “traditions” should exist at all. The protesters in Alabama were validated, the last form of campus segregation should not still have a place in society today. It is almost shocking that those who decry the Greek system are more commonly those who are not members, rather than those who may have rushed yet did not receive bids or those who were, knowingly or not, discriminated against.
As someone who is not planning to rush, despite my own sister being a sister at another university, I decided on one of my first nights on campus to make a—sober, may I add—journey down to the legendary “frat court” with a few equally curious friends. I have never had much opposition towards the system, it was simply something I never planned on being a part of in college. I was supportive of the idea because I saw how positively it impacted my own sister. We went to the party in order to view a spectacle, not to be a part of the crowd. The night went as expected and I left the houses without much interest in returning, but appreciative of the idea that this was where many college kids would find their places. The lack of diversity in the crowd was obvious. I do not know much about the Greek life on my own campus, but one night was enough for me. I had the answer to the question I already thought I had the answer to: I would not rush.
College is all about diversity mixed with a tremendous amount of new experiences. It is not about exclusiveness, after all, students already had to go through an admission process once before. If Greek life is on the rise, it should be available to all who are interested. Traditions can only exist for so long; diversity is so much more interesting than maintaining the old agenda. Part of the college experience is stepping out of one’s comfort zone and into the future of new possibilities. Perhaps more sororities and fraternities should refer to the happenings in Alabama to remember it is actually beneficial to broaden horizons. In fact, if these organizations want to keep increasing their memberships, maybe they should make expanding their membership pools an imperative matter during rush week, no matter what the potential members’ skin tones or interests are.